Fasting and the ethics of reciprocity to ‘the other’

Azis Anwar Fachrudin | CRCS | Article


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The time has come for Muslim preachers to prepare what they will deliver in the daily sermons during the coming Islamic fasting month of Ramadhan.

Ramadhan is probably the only time in which Islamic sermons will talk more about ethics, morality, patience and anything related to controlling emotions — as these are among the key meanings of fasting — rather than issues pertaining to Islamic identity and politics. The Arabic word for fasting, siyam or sawm, literally means “to refrain/abstain from something”.

The ritual obligation of fasting is to abstain from the physical needs and desires: eating, drinking and having sex during daylight hours. Yet to perfect one’s fasting and upgrade his/her spiritual level, s/he should refrain from negative emotions ( anger, envy, arrogance, hatred, etc. ) and materialistic ambitions to achieve, as the Koran explicitly says, la’allakum tattaqun ( consciousness of God ).

This teaching of refraining from materialism to enhance spirituality is shared by other religious traditions through various methods including fasting. All these are good, of course, and maybe more needed for Muslims nowadays after the last few years of rising intolerance and radicalism.

After 11 months Muslims have been exposed to sermons filled with theological debates spreading hatred and sectarianism, Ramadhan should be an interlude for self-criticism and, more importantly, reevaluating the way Muslims have dealt with the other. Among the sermons that preachers often deliver during Ramadhan is that fasting is for Muslims to experience the life of the poor and needy.

Even though this is not the rationale of Islamic fasting ritualistically, it is a hikmah ( wisdom ) embedded in fasting’s spiritually: It is an act of solidarity for Muslims to put themselves in the shoes of those less fortunate than them.

As a result of this developed empathy, fasting is a manifest of the ethics of reciprocity or the golden rule — don’t do unto others what you don’t what others do unto you; or, in the words of the Prophet Muhammad, “one is not a [real] believer until s/he wishes for his/her brother what s/he wishes for him/herself.”


Azis Anwar Fachrudin, The writer is a graduate fellowship recipient at the Asia Research Institute, National University of Singapore. He is a masters student in religious studies at Gadjah Mada University.



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